Monday, April 18, 2011

Experience of the Scent Kit

For our second theme of memory, I found the scent kit to be particularly interesting and fun. I never would have considered how hard it was to smell something without knowing the source before. I had previously never thought about how when people smell things, they usually look for the source while they do so, or something about their environment informs them about what they smell. But just having bottles of smell with no obvious label took away that information and made the experience challenging and interesting.

Without any kind of visual cue as to what I smelled, I found myself rather lost for describing scents. Things could usually fall into categories like sweet, flowery, piney, or rich, but it was hard to find a way to describe the smaller nuances of the smell – the things that made it distinct. For most of the smells I also felt like I knew what it was, I just could not for the life of me think of the exact word. It really made me realize how dependent people are on written and verbal languages. Describing a sense is very challenging without being able to have a person experience the exact same things you are. And even when we were all smelling the same bottles, each one of us had a very different take on what that smell was and what it meant to us individually.

What I thought was really interesting was as soon as we found out what the bottle was supposed to smell like, it became obvious and hard to smell it as anything else. It was like the language locked our minds in to a box of what it was “supposed” to smell like. Those small nuances of the smell became just a conglomerate of what strawberry or jasmine was “supposed” to be and it was no longer an abstract thing. The smell became mundane again. I think the butter smell was one of the best examples, since before we knew what it was everyone was appalled by the smell. After we knew it was butter though, it was not as bad.

One thing I found rather lacking in my experience with the scent kit was any kind of memory connection to the smells, actually. Or at least a direct connection to that smell in particular. When I sniffed one of the bottles, my mind was first trying to figure out what the smell was, once it was placed into a category of smell, and then my mind could make associations to other things that smelled similar. But it was never the smell directly that gave me any kind of memory. Is that normal? I know I read that smell is supposed to be very closely linked with our sense of memory, but it did not really do anything for me. I have to wonder how something like allergies can affect the process though, since my nose is usually pretty stuffed from allergies. Even so, it was a lot of fun to see just how bad our ability to identify a smell actually is.

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